Cultural diversity: a lesson beyond gen eds
January 23, 2007


Opinions: Francesca van der Feltz, published on Tuesday

Without a conscious effort on either side, there is often a social divide between international and local students at ASU.

The general lack of interaction between foreign and American students on campus is not surprising or unusual for a community of many cultures.
However, socialization is a key to understanding and appreciating others.

Fortunately, the academic arena probably offers more opportunity for what ASU administrators call "global engagement" than any other chance you will have in life.

If we are unsuccessful in our universities, where bright, diverse scholars flock for new experiences, and where the hearts and minds of all parties are supposed to be open to new ideas, we shouldn't wonder why there is trouble in the larger playing field of international relations.

Being mindful and open to people from other countries is beneficial for everyone. Students actively involved in the global perspective are much more adaptive, flexible and appreciative of variety all elements of a successful professional in any field.

Opportunity abounds here at ASU. We play host to thousands of international students annually. And that instructor with the funny accent and unpronounceable name not only offers a unique perspective on the subject at hand, but can also offer knowledge gained from a life very different from yours.

Americans: All this fancy talk of "global engagement" means nothing if we can't engage the global visitors we already have.

International guests: You didn't come here just to find people identical to yourself, obviously. World festivals are great, but they only last a day or so. We need the right attitude to overcome cultural barriers for a lasting experience.

Start with active interest. Value diversity whether it fits you personally.
Seek to understand before expecting to be understood. Be bold and take the first step.

Keep in mind that communication comes in many forms and does not always mean what you assume it does.

Here's an example based on actual complaints from students at ASU: an American smiles at a random international student they pass. The international student looks taken aback. Both parties divert their eyes and walk on. What went wrong there?

The American smiles as friendly gesture, which translates into a friendly greeting. However, in many cultures, a smile is a form of communication between acquaintances.

Even a smile can be lost in translation.

When you find yourself criticizing how others do things, pause and try to think of a positive way to view the alternate method.

Hypothetical advice is well and good, but how do you get involved in this international landscape? Numerous active student organizations strive to exchange cultural understanding at ASU.

Why not use those two years of language credits you need to earn by getting involved in an organization that immerses you deeper in the language and the culture that comes with it? I guarantee you'll get a better grade from the experience as well.

If you are service-oriented and want a bigger commitment, Community Outreach and Advocacy for Refugees connects students with families from around the world who have resettled locally and need help learning to live in the Valley.

ASU's International Programs Office offers hundreds of study abroad programs. Study abroad provides deeper immersion than can be found on campus, with the added bonus of teaching students what it is like to be the foreigner.

I studied in the Netherlands for a year and came back with heightened sensitivity, awareness and a sense of camaraderie toward our own international guests. Living in a foreign place is like having the entire country for a classroom. Overwhelming.

Both the U.S. and international students at ASU need to reach out. Turn those barriers into bridges and that canyon won't seem so wide. Make the effort to grow. That's what we're here for, after all.

Reach the reporter at: